Americans are most worried about water pollution, survey reveals
05/05/2021 // Divina Ramirez // Views

Of the six environmental issues facing the United States today, a majority of Americans are most worried about those that impact water quality, according to an annual environmental survey.

An American analytics and advisory company, Gallup's survey found that 56 percent of Americans are very worried about pollutants in drinking water, while 53 percent worry about water pollution in rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

Those two issues surpassed four other environmental concerns, including air pollution, global warming, loss of tropical rainforests and the extinction of plant and animal species. These survey results are the latest data points in over two decades of tracking worry over these environmental problems among Americans.

A smaller, but still substantial number – ranging between 40 and 45 percent – expressed a great deal of concern about the loss of tropical rain forests, global warming or climate change, air pollution and the extinction of plant and animal species.

Writing for Gallup, research consultant Megan Brennan said that although degrees of worry have changed over time, the rank order has remained largely consistent. Water pollution continues to outpace other threats.

Overall, 41 percent of Americans said the condition of the environment in the U.S. is "excellent" or "good," while the remaining 59 percent rated it as "only fair" or "poor."

Water pollution emerges as top environmental concern

The latest survey results show significantly lower levels of worry on all six issues than in 2000. That being said, worry levels across all six threats are now at roughly the same levels as 2019. Partisan differences were also evident. The most substantial disparities lie in the issue of so-called climate change or global warming.


In particular, 68 percent of Americans who identified as Democrats said they were "a great deal" worried about climate change, while only 14 percent of those who identified as Republicans felt the same.

The significant gaps in degrees of worry expressed by partisans have been consistent since 2000, said Brennan. For instance, since 2000 the average percentage of Democrats highly concerned about all six environmental threats included in the survey has been more than 20 percentage points higher than that of Republicans.

Brennan also wrote that the fluctuations in worry levels since 2019 were driven by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. On average, these people became more worried about all six environmental concerns in 2020 during the presidential campaign. However, they are now less worried with Joe Biden as president.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents' concern over the six environmental challenges has been fairly stable over the same period. These people are also nearly three times as likely as Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to rate the overall quality of the environment positively.

How contaminated drinking water can affect human health

In 2014, lead seepage into the drinking water in Flint, Michigan caused a public health crisis. Former President Barrack Obama even declared a federal state of emergency there in 2016 to free up $5 million in federal aid. (Related: Former Michigan governor charged for role in Flint water scandal.)

The problem began when the city switched its water supply. Almost immediately, residents started to complain about the quality of the water. By the time city and state officials acquiesced that there was a serious problem, water supply pipes had already sustained major corrosion because of lead, which had leached into the water.

Lead exposure is especially harmful to children and pregnant women. Research shows that lead poisoning may lead to speech delay and learning disabilities in children. Lead can also cause extensive damage to the brain. In healthy adults, lead exposure can negatively impact the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems.

If a woman is exposed to lead during her pregnancy, her baby will also be exposed. Elevated levels of lead in the blood during pregnancy increase the risk for miscarriage. Lead exposure can also cause the baby to be born too early or too small. The child may also develop behavioral problems and/or intellectual disabilities.

Follow for more articles about the health effects of drinking water contaminants.

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